David K. Biedenbender
It is inevitable that organizations, groups, and teams will go through periods of change. For a variety of reasons, members of those organizations, groups, and teams need strong leadership during those periods of change. Leaders need to understand the members of the group and provide them with necessary information and support to help them navigate the change taking place. There are several key thoughts that can be helpful to leaders during these times of change.
Empathy is an important quality for leaders to have during times of change. Leaders need to “stand in the shoes” of followers and attempt to see the world from their point of view. They need to truly understand what followers are thinking and feeling (Northouse, 2016). Sometimes followers are excited and ready for the change taking place, and other times followers are strongly opposed to the change. Leaders need to get a proper read on followers so they can understand what they need during these transitions and know how to guide the members of their group.
One job of a leader during times of change is to cast a vision that is so powerful and so appealing that it overcomes the group or team’s natural inertia and resistance to change (Williams, 2015). People are, for the most part, resistant to change. Most would rather stay in an uncomfortable situation that is familiar rather than try something new and unfamiliar. When Vince Lombardi became head coach of the Green Bay Packers, he had a clear vision of what the Packers would become. He immediately began to instill that vision in his coaching staff and players. Leaders during times of change need to instill their vision in their followers, as well.
Leaders also need to prepare followers for the change that is coming. Whatever a leader does now sets up what he does later – and there is always a later (Krzyzewski, 2000). Leaders need to have a step-by-step approach in mind to prepare followers for changes to the group or organization. If followers are gradually prepared for the changes to come, they will most likely be more ready to cooperate when asked to make alterations to their routine.
Followers generally do not like change forced upon them, so leaders need to be masters of persuasion. A good leader will create change through the use of gentle nonjudgmental argument rather than trying to coerce followers. Leaders will use clear and persistent communication that convinces others to change (Northouse, 2016). Leaders will work to inspire followers to accept change rather than demand it of them.
Krzyzewski (2000) believes if leaders are going to expect followers to go along with changes, leaders must be fully committed to the course of action that is taking place. Leaders who have a non-committal attitude toward an upcoming change or transition will struggle to gain the support and commitment of followers. When followers witness an enthusiastic and committed leader during a time of change, they will be more apt to jump in and embrace the new thought or idea. If followers can sense the leader is not committed, there will be a struggle to engage those followers in full commitment to the cause.
Both Northouse (2016) and Vince Lombardi believe that foresight is important during times of change. Foresight is different from vision. Foresight is the ability to predict what is coming based on what is occurring in the present and what has happened in the past. Leaders need to be able to foresee answers to questions like these: How have my followers reacted to changes in the past? What opinions have my followers expressed on changes like these previously? How will my followers react to the change that is coming? How can I prepare my followers to avoid any problems when this change occurs? What types of reactions are common when changes of this magnitude take place? Leaders need to be able to predict the reactions of followers and try to head off any issues they might see coming.
Vince Lombardi felt during times of change that leaders need to focus on what is important, keep things simple, and eliminate complexity (Williams, 2015). Too often leaders inundate followers with too much information and too many changes at one time. Lombardi kept things simple with his Green Bay Packers team by running an offense that focused on just a few plays and worked to perfect the execution of those plays. In the same way, leaders need to simplify things for the followers in their groups so they don’t get overwhelmed with the changes taking place. It helps if followers can focus on just a few important things during a time of transition.
Listening and being receptive to what others have to say is an important thing for leaders to do during times of change. Northouse (2016) surmised that through listening, leaders acknowledge the viewpoint of followers and validate their perspectives. In order for leaders to understand followers and empathize with them, they need to listen to issues and concerns followers may have with the upcoming change. By listening to followers, leaders may discover things that will help them ease the transition for those followers. Followers will respect the fact that leaders take the time to hear their concerns. Leaders may just hear some ideas from followers that cause them to alter some of the intended changes to better fit the followers’ needs.
Times of change create challenges for organizations, groups, and teams. Leaders can definitely help during these times by consciously and proactively addressing the needs of followers. Getting followers to buy in to change can be aided by thoughtful servant leadership. If leaders fulfill the responsibilities they have to followers during times of change, followers will be more willing to follow them down the positive path of change.
Krzyzewski, M. (2000). Leading with the heart. New York, NY: Warner Books, Inc.
Northouse, P.G. (2016). Leadership: theory and practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.
Williams, P. (2015). Vince Lombardi on leadership. Charleston, SC: Advantage Media Group.